Derek Lowe began waving emphatically as soon as he saw where Jason Kendall‘s shot was going. Lowe’s gestures to Nate McLouth were meaningless, but the center fielder made the play all the same.
Casey Kotchman hit a three-run homer and McLouth made a pair of great catches in the sixth when Lowe began to tire, lifting the surging Atlanta Braves to a 10-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday.
“I was waving him over there, I had the perfect angle of it,” Lowe said.
“Maybe that’s why I got there,” joked McLouth, who won his first Gold Glove last season. “It was a good series. Coming in, all these games are big the rest of the season, but when there are teams that are right there in the wild card (race) with us and you have a chance to move ahead of team or separate from teams, it makes them that much more important.”
Atlanta and Milwaukee are certainly headed in opposite directions.
The Braves have won eight of 11 since the All-Star break and even though they remain 6½ games behind Philadelphia in the NL East.
Kelly Johnson, who hit a two-run homer in the ninth in his first start since coming off the disabled list Thursday, said he can feel a difference over the time he was gone rehabbing his ailing right wrist.
“Confidence. I think everybody’s really stepped up their confidence level, everybody’s been playing so good,” Johnson said. “It’s also like a swagger, it’s just a feeling being in the clubhouse. Everybody’s a little louder, having a little more fun. Things like that. You can really tell.”
It’s no fun for Milwaukee, which fell to 7-14 in July and is fourth in the NL Central after starting the month with a two-game lead in the division.
“We’re not pleasing a lot of people so we’ve got to figure out a way to get it going,” said Corey Hart, who hit a two-run homer in the sixth for the only runs off Lowe.
Kotchman’s deep drive to right off Braden Looper in the sixth gave Atlanta a 5-0 lead and the Braves scored five times off Milwaukee’s bullpen, starting with Brian McCann‘s solo homer in the seventh.
Lowe (10-7) has been a main beneficiary of the added offense. In the veteran right-hander’s last four starts, he’s 3-0 with a 2.63 ERA and has allowed only two homers. He struck out three and forced 10 groundball outs before running into trouble in the sixth and needing McLouth to bail him out.
“I went from the most part getting groundballs to what amounts to about 1,000 feet of two outs and a home run,” Lowe said. “The play of the game is clearly the Kendall ball. The inning really could’ve unraveled, but he makes a great play, we come back and a great win. Our offense has been phenomenal the whole second half.”
Looper (9-5) had been the only Brewers starter succeeding, going 4-0 in his previous six appearances, but he gave up a first inning run on McCann’s two-out double and fell apart in the sixth.
McCann walked with one out, Garret Anderson singled to put runners on the corners and Matt Diaz‘s RBI single made it 2-0. Kotchman followed with his homer off Looper, who has allowed a major-league high 24 this season and left after the inning.
“I was able to limit the damage most of the time until that last inning. Unfortunately, that three-run homer really hurt,” Looper said.
McLouth, acquired from Pittsburgh for three players on June 3, made sure Milwaukee didn’t rally in the bottom of the inning. Ryan Braun singled with one out and McLouth made a leaping catch near the wall to save a run off a long drive by Prince Fielder.
With two outs, Hart homered off Lowe, cutting it to 5-2, and J.J. Hardy and Jody Gerut hit consecutive singles, but McLouth saved two more runs when he tracked down Kendall’s deep drive to left-center field. McLouth had been playing shallow and shaded to right, needing a full sprint to make the grab.
“Unbelievable,” McCann said. “They’re game-saving catches. Getting him on our team is just such a big acquisition. He’s a Gold Glove center fielder. He’s got five tools. He can hurt in so many different ways.”
San Diego’s Josh Geer has also allowed 24 homers this season. … Braves LHP Mike Gonzalez pitched a clean seventh in his first appearance since taking a line drive off his forearm in Thursday’s game. … Braves RF Ryan Church (elbow) was out, but hopes to return for the Florida series starting Tuesday after hurting himself swinging Saturday night. … Braves RHP Tim Hudson (ligament replacement) is scheduled to make his third rehab start at Triple-A Gwinnett on Monday.